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Proposed Wisconsin Legislation Will Expand Texting While Driving Law

Posted on in Personal Injury

Milwaukee car accident attorney, texting while driving, texting while driving law, Wisconsin legislation, distracted driversBy: Kenneth John Anthony Baker

In August, the Wisconsin Assembly proposed new legislation that will expand on current texting while driving laws. Under current law, it is illegal for a person to engage in certain activities while driving a motor vehicle. One of the activities prohibited by the inattentive driving statute is driving any motor vehicle “while composing or sending an electronic text message. This prohibition on texting and emailing while driving does not apply to operators of emergency vehicles and hands-free devices. The authors of the bill list three main reasons the bill is necessary:

  1. Data distracted driving is a serious problem;
  2. Wisconsin law needs an update to keep pace with smart phone technology; and
  3. Wisconsin’s penalties are now out of step with neighboring states.

The Assembly Bill expands on the activities that are prohibited while driving. The bill changes the current prohibition on texting or emailing while driving to provide that no person may “physically manipulate an interactive electronic device to enter, transmit, or access data while driving.” The bill’s intention is to prohibit more than just texting and emailing. It is also intended to expand the devices that are prohibited. The new law would prohibit anyone from physically using any electronic device.

Some new activities that are implicitly targeted are scrolling through Instagram, tweeting, using apple watches, and reading the news on a phone or tablet. Legislatures are aiming to prevent dangerous activities while driving by expanding on the old law. By doing so, they broadened the scope of the law to provide for new technologies while also protecting Wisconsin drivers.

In addition to expanding the activities that are banned, the legislatures are increasing the penalties attached to the violation. Under current law, the penalty for violating the prohibition while texting while driving is a money forfeiture of not less than $20 but no more than $400. Under current law, a person guilty of the crime of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle faces a penalty of a Class G felony punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment up to six years.

The new law would increase the minimum penalty of inattentive driving from $20 to $100. The penalty for the crime of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle still faces a Class G Felony with a fine not to exceed $25,000 but increases the imprisonment from 6 to up to 10 years.

Some activities that are allowable while driving are using an electronic device for purposes of navigation, use of an interactive electronic device for verbal communication, the use of an interactive electronic device to report an emergency, and the use of hands-free technologies.

According to one of the bill’s authors, State Representative Ron Tusler, the bill is intended to help prevent distracted drivers. “By bolstering our data-distracted driving statute, it highlights the unnecessary dangers and pushes back against cultural expectation of constant communication before it becomes a societal bad habit.” He further stated in a hearing regarding the bill on September 21, 2017, “There is no tweet, Facebook pose, or snap that is worth $400 or one’s life. The bottom line of this legislation: no person may use a cell phone, tablet, computer, or other device to enter, transmit, or access data while driving.”

The Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association in a letter to the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety also pleaded for an update to the law. “Assembly Bill 463 will protect the First Responders of Wisconsin when responding to emergencies on the highways. There are over 750,000 emergencies in Wisconsin every year.” With all of the emergencies that take place in one year, the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association is concerned with an increase in emergencies that will be cause by inattentive driving.

Due to distracted driving, there were 121 deaths on Wisconsin roads in 2016, up 68 percent from 2014, and 25,594 accidents, according to Ron Tusler. Tusler further argued in a committee hearing, “If we aim for zero drunk driving deaths on Wisconsin roads we can aim for zero distracted driving deaths and crashes as well.”

The Assembly Bill on December 7, 2017 was referred to the committee on rules, and has yet to be voted on.

If you were injured in a car accident and believe another driver's negligence was the cause, contact a compassionate Milwaukee car accident attorney today at 414-271-1440 to discuss your case. 

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